The Indus Valley Civilization

The following images are drawn from various Web sites concerning the architecture and artifacts associated with the Indus Valley Civilization, dating from the mid third century BCE. The astonishing sites at Harappa and Mohenjo-daro were discovered in the early twentieth century and have been a source of continual archaeological fascination since then.

There is a currently a lively debate among scholars and interested lay persons as to whether the people of this ancient civilization (often referred to as "Dravidians") were culturally and ethnically distinct from, or identical to, the Vedic-speaking "Aryans." The dominant theory has been (and remains) that the Aryans migrated to the Indian subcontinent during the earlier part of the second millenium BCE, struggled for supremacy with the local inhabitants, gradually overcame them and pushed many of them further south. Some variants of this theory portray the Aryans as invaders who launched a full-scale war of conquest, wiping out large numbers of the native Dravidians and subjugating the rest as members of the servile castes. Other interpretations, however, suggest that the Aryans and Dravidians may have lived next to each other for several centuries in relative harmony, engaging in trade and cultural exchanges. On this view, it was probably a series of natural disasters -- such as soil erosion, changes in the courses of important rivers, or long-term drought -- that finally ended the Indus Valley civilization and created a vacuum which the Aryans then filled.

Recently, a new reconstruction of the past has emerged, fueled in part by discoveries along the ancient Sarasvati River bed, in part also by an ideological agenda which seeks to show that the Aryan culture was in fact indigenous to India, that there never was an "Aryan invasion" at all. According to this view, the people who build the cities of Harappa, Mohenjo-daro, and elsewhere, were in fact Aryans, the very same who created the Rigveda. Advocates of this theory point out that there is little hard evidence of any massive invasion, and that the decline of the great cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro could be sufficiently explained as the unfortunate results of natural phenomena. Furthermore, they also argue that the alleged cultural "fusion" between the Aryan conquerors and subjugated Dravidians may simply reflect an original unity that never disappeared. On the other hand, it is extremely difficult to explain, on this revisionist hypothesis, why it is that the artifacts excavated from Indus Valley sites include no representations of horses (though they do of most other wild and domestic animals known at that time); why the Indus Valley script bears no apparent relation to the ancient Vedic (Devanagari) script; why the Vedas contain numerous derogatory allusions to "the snub-nosed, dark-skinned people"; and especially why the Hindi and Tamil languages today belong to completely different language groups.

In the opinion of this writer, the preponderance of evidence weighs in favor of the two-cultures hypothesis. This appears to be so even if, as the revisionists observe, there is no proof that the Aryans ever "invaded" the Indian subcontinent. It does appear that there was probably a massive folk-migration of some kind, in which a Vedic-speaking people entered the Indian subcontinent and mingled with non-Vedic-speaking peoples, until the former eventually replaced the latter as the dominant culture. A recent article in National Geographic magazine (June, 2000) cites the work of two contemporary archaeologists -- Richard Meadow of Harvard University and Jonathan Kenoyer of the University of Wisconsin -- whose excavations strongly support the two-peoples hypothesis. Since I am not an expert in this field, however, I will leave the topic for others to thrash out. Those interested in this controversy may wish to visit a Web site entitled Aryan Invasion Theory Links, maintained by The Hindu Universe. On the other side of the debate, see the short synopsis of the standard view by Richard Hooker, and especially the sober and critical essay, "The Indus Civilization = Aryans equation: Is it really a Problem?" by D.P. Agrawal.

Edward A. Beach
Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies
University of Wisconsin -- Eau Claire


Photo Gallery


Sources:

Hindu Students' Council, The Hindu Universe.

Dr. Kalyanaraman, Sarasvati Web, especially the slide show entitled "Sarasvati-Sindhu (Indus) civilization: Maps and Images." Most of the images on this page have been culled from Dr. Kalyanaraman's extensive site.

The Ancient Indus Valley: 900 Illustrated Pages by Leading Scholars. Included among these two deserve special mention:

Last modified on 3 September, 2004. If you have comments or suggestions, please e-mail me at beachea@uwec.edu. I would be especially interested in information pertaining to Web sites with photos of Aryan material culture.